Life in Medicine NYSC

Behind the Lens: A story of Papa

Papa lives in Southern Nigeria. Even though there are tales of its sojourn in the South-South region of Nigeria, it appears that Papa makes its home in South-West Nigeria – these people are more acquainted with Papa’s escapades.

I first heard and came into contact with Papa in November, when I was sent to the NYSC Orientation Camp, Ikare-Akoko, Ondo state.

Papa was in our vicinity, its presence felt in increasing measures as our days turned into weeks.

Being a corp doctor, I was mostly in the clinic, attending to sick corp members and other NYSC officials who were camped with us.


NYSC orientation camp, Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria. Shot on my Samsung Galaxy J6+.

It’s no secret that the medical personnel on camp find it easiest dodging parade, on grounds of being on duty in the clinic. This has been a norm over the past years and it was no different for my colleagues and myself. Unfortunately, things turned a bit sour for us after a while, with our clinic head protesting the number of doctors in the clinic each morning, and insisting that those whose names were not on the roster for a given day should go to the parade ground.


After morning parade a certain day.

There are two parades. The morning and evening parades. I loved going for the first because it ended with a dance exercise, led by the man-o-war officials, and performed to songs coined with hilarious lyrics.

I often left after the dance exercise and did not bother going for the evening parade on most days. Being in Ondo state, the sunshine state, the sun was usually out in its glory and I failed to go camping with my sunscreen. Rather than burn under the heat of the sun, I took to spending the time in the camp clinic, either attending to patients or passing time with fellow medics.

My ordeal with papa began on one of the morning parades. I felt an insect fly over my left eye and instinctively shoved it off my face in an attempt to prevent it from getting into my eye.

I panicked for a moment afterwards and wondered whether or not I killed the insect. I hoped for my sake that I didn’t. ‘It could have been papa,’ I thought worriedly.

The day went on well until later in the evening when I started feeling mild pain over my left eye. It was in the middle of a card game. I asked a colleague sat next to me to look at my eye and see if he could note anything. He said that he couldn’t. Another looked and declared that I might have been stung by papa. Everyone’s attention then was piqued and I admitted to shoving an insect off my face in the course of the morning parade.

My worry escalated. I could not concentrate on the game anymore. I needed to address the situation as soon as I could. I immediately applied a triple action cream – analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial – over the area. Took a tablet of Loratadine to arrest any possible itching. I can’t clearly recall all I did at that moment but I probably overtreated myself.

The rash subsequently morphed into something worse, the inflammation grew with each daybreak, becoming more swollen, painful and reddened.


– The peak of my eye inflammation.

Two days into my ordeal, before the swelling grew in leap and bound, a friend who was also a senior colleague advised me to refrain from using steroid containing cream over my eye. So, I ditched the triple action cream for penicillin ointment to prevent secondary infection of the wound.

Gradually the wound began to break down, giving off pus, which I cleaned off at intervals and necessitating my switch to an oral antibiotic and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

At a point, my eye looked like a burn wound. A friend communicated to me how someone had asked if I was hit in the face by perhaps a blow. It was humorous and sad all together.

Healing was a slow and painful process. At some point, I had to purchase sunglass to cover my eyes in a bid to cut down the sympathy party. You could not help but feel sorry for me and ask what happened to my eye. A certain woman, a tailor on camp thought it had a spiritual undertone – not merely mine, but the increasing incidence of the insect bite on camp. I only agreed that the camp needed fumigation, especially before the next stream of corp members arrive, three days following our exit from camp.

Papa goes by other sweet names. It is also known as ‘skirt and blouse,’ quite a famous insect it became on camp! Dressed in dark orange and black. Its scientific name is rove beetles.

images (3)

– (In)famous papa 🙄

Research has shown that Papa neither bites nor stings but causes skin irritations and blisters when accidentally brushed or crushed against the skin. This provocation causes it to release the coelomic fluid it carries which contains a strong blistering chemical, Paederin.

Did you know this chemical is considered more potent than cobra venom?

What to do when one comes into contact with Papa:

All of the treatment regimens I have seen prescribe washing the area and your hands with soap and water after contact with the insect.

A study postulated that the best outcomes were achieved when a topical steroid, antihistamines (on the first day) and antibiotics were combined. I can’t say much for this because the location of mine was a delicate and sensitive part of my body. On other parts of the body, a topical steroid may be acceptable.

The entire process may last from two weeks to three weeks. I can attest to this.

Some persons in camp proposed applying toothpaste over the rash and getting a certain leaf from a trader in the mammy market, but it came across to me as putting salt in your bath water to prevent contracting Ebola, as some Nigerians did during the epidemic.

I had been healthy for the most part of the camp. Even when this happened I did not let it ruin the entire experience for me. I broke down on a certain day when the inflammation was at its peak, took photos every day to monitor its progress and bugged my friends with my incessant worries and concerns. Their response was always a gentle reminder that it would heal and where they could, they offered more advice and provided the necessary assistance I needed. Thanks, guys!

I resorted to hiding my inflamed eyes behind a dark lens since I could not completely get away from taking group and solo photos.

My eye is still healing but it is a lot better than it used to be and I am thankful, excited and patiently awaiting full recovery.


– What recovery looks like. Day 7.

Have you heard of Papa? Ever been hurt by it? Know someone who has? Please, share your experiences and thoughts on this insect.



By annieejiofor

Hello. I'm Annie, a Nigerian, medical doctor, IELTS coach, freelance editor and the voice behind the writing.

I blog about life within and without medicine and other lifestyle topics like books, travel and helpful advice for medical professionals.

20 replies on “Behind the Lens: A story of Papa”

I did NOT see this coming. So sorry, Annie ♥️♥️
I heard about this before we came to camp, but in mine, I don’t think we had it. We didn’t see this case in the clinic.
It could have been because it was an urban area.
It’s pretty interesting that it was on your eye. So sorry.
Thank God camp is over for you. Sometimes I wonder how I’d have survived camp if I wasn’t a medic.
Enjoyed reading this!

Liked by 1 person sorry..just thought the glasses were just because of the sun..Never knew it was because of this..Hope the spot is getting better…Also camped in Ikare Akoko but never noticed it nor treated anyone with it..Maybe its seasonal..comes out during dry season..In all..get well..

Liked by 1 person

Sorry about the ‘papa’ encounter. It’s good to note you didn’t let it hamper your camping experience. It’s great too to see you’re recovering well.

I’ve always known the insect as electric ant(AKA skirt & blouse)—never heard it being called “papa”. Since the time[in boarding school] I first saw how much harm they could cause, I dread them—”papa” no get joy at all.

Liked by 1 person

Hey Anita, its good to see your eye healing perfectly. Also a good and intriguing write up about our lives in camp and the menance of papa aka”skirt and blouse”. I must say that im one the few lucky ones who did not come in contact with papa but i was in constant fear of it. Every little itch left me with a constant fear of papa’s toxic secreta. Anyway, its good to be out!

Liked by 1 person

Nice piece,Papa was a menace in camp,sorry you had to go through that. I’m glad to see it’s almost healed completely, and it shouldn’t leave a lasting scar!PS:While we were in camp,I had 2 encounters too with the Rove Beetles, and I washed the area with water multiple times,and it worked.I also would like a piece from you about the horrible living conditions we had to endure in camp,I’d write it myself but who are we kidding, I’m a horrible writer!

Liked by 1 person

So sorry you had to got through all that hun..and sorry I am just commenting..oh well I have always been a late bloomer
I had an experience with the insect in my boarding School one open air reading area we called ‘aircon’ lol…it was not a pleasant experience at all
I am so glad you feel better
And I just learnt the rove beetles was also called ‘Papa’ today..everyone knew it as skirt and blouse
Keep winning girl..n Enjoy the sunshine state!!!

Liked by 1 person

Wow, nice piece Anita.
Sorry to hear about your experience with skirt and blouse. I remember it usually bites people during a particular season while I was in secondary school. This made us more vigilant.

Really nice post you got here!

Liked by 1 person

[…] I am still undecided about where I want to serve. I was almost certain I wanted to serve in the North to have a full Nigerian experience but I am not as enthusiastic about serving as I was a few months or a year ago. Also, I am not sure about going far from home. So, I may choose comfort and convenience over adventure. (Where I went in the end!) […]

Liked by 1 person

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